Donald J Richey Elementary School in Newport, Delaware is a Title I school. Its former Building Principal, Dr. Stephanie Armstrong, wanted to find ways to improve the social and emotional aspects of the students’ lives. She recognized a real need to connect families with the school and, although she had never been a gardener, Dr. Armstrong intuitively knew that establishing a school garden might be a golden opportunity to build that connection.
A grant from Delaware’s Cares Act and a Gardening Know How sponsorship helped to get the garden started in an area next to the school. But to jump-start their interest, the first project was to provide every family in the building with a garden kit to take home. The kits included soil, seeds, instructions and a container. Families began to get excited, growing everything from lettuce to tomatoes, resulting in a major taco feed. The students were proud of what they were learning at school, and the excitement spread to their families, many of whom had lived in large cities and had never seen themselves as gardeners.
The school garden was planted as planned using those initial funds. It thrived, producing cucumbers, broccoli, carrots, lettuce and a variety of herbs. The students were excited to watch the entire life cycle as it developed, from planting to growth to harvest. The garden produced a large enough harvest to share produce with the neighborhood and faculty. Through the gardening activities with students and families, Stephanie has begun to see that true links have developed between the school and home lives of her students.
Activities and Expansion
Richey School students are becoming familiar with nature in many ways. For example, these lucky kids were each given a nature bag containing themes for learning about bugs, birds and specific aspects of nature for them to explore. The bags contain books about various bird species, bugs and animals in nature, a set of binoculars and bird callers. The school’s gardening effort is now expanding, with a new Peace Garden planned for the front of the school, which is “stage two.” During National Kindness Week, students are painting rocks with messages of kindness that will be placed in the new Peace Garden. Third graders planted bulbs this year and, along with Stephanie, were surprised to find out how tasty the local squirrels find them.
The garden has become a full-school initiative, with every student having the opportunity to be hands-on in the gardens, including remote learners. Horticulture Therapist, Kathy Andrewjeski will be conducting a nature summer camp. Stephanie’s hope is that cultivating an interest in gardening will take the place of some of the time these students spend looking at a screen, especially since the pandemic has often kept us at home and online.
Richey School Gardens can provide an excellent model for other schools and communities. Stephanie Armstrong was not a gardener when she started, but has learned right along with the students. This project sets a great example for other schools that want to encourage kids and their families to learn about the cycles of nature, where food comes from and how to work together in the community. Our thanks go out to Dr. Stephanie Armstrong and Kathy Andrzejewski for their hard work and this great accomplishment.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Garden for Everyone page today.